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It can be argued that in relationships, especially romantic ones, it isn’t just the other person we learn about but ourselves. Through them, we begin to understand our parents, our place in this world, and this is the story of Obama learning who he is through a young woman named Charlotte.
Review (with Spoilers)
Barry (Devon Terrell) | Charlotte (Anya Taylor-Joy) | Thad (Sawyer Pierce) | PJ (Jason Mitchell)
Though perhaps hard to believe, there was a woman, a life, before Barack met Michelle Obama. In that life he was but a young man in New York, like we see in Southside With You, trying to deal with his complicated relationship with his father, but also more. Being that Barack was bi-racial, and grew up with the parent who looked nothing like him, skin tone wise, there is the question of where he belonged. The question of what is his scene? And that is the journey we go on with Devon Terrell. Trying to understand, often times through the experience of being around and with others, who we are and what it means in terms of our past.
College isn’t about learning, it’s about training.
It’s like musical chairs or… I mean, you turn 25, the music stops, and whoever you’re dating, you marry? It’s not just my sister, either. It’s all of her friends. I don’t see them for a few months, and then bam, they show up with rocks on their fingers and some random guy in tow.
You take the baton from the ones who’ve come before, and you carry it as far as you can and then you hand it off.
I’m from a lot of places, but I live here now.
The Complications of Relationships (Both Platonic and Within A Family)
As noted, to a point, in “A Love Interest With Depth” below, one of the strong themes of this is the complications dealing with loving white people. Your mother or father can be white, supportive, and of course love you, but if they don’t look like you, if they didn’t have to go through what you did, there is this complication.
As we all likely know, Barack has a white mother and an African father. His father was barely in his life and because of that, it seems Barack didn’t have a Black male influence. Leading me to, once again, think of Randall in This Is Us (which I reference so much I minas well review it). Here is a man, a person, who has learned how to engage, trust, and love white people because that is what he knew. Yet, no matter how accepted he is by the white people in his family, there are certain parts of their culture, white American culture that is, which aren’t available to him. There are certain things not understood, like when one character Thad speaks on getting over slavery, that reminds him he is an other. Some of his thoughts and feelings these people will never understand. So he has to seek out those who may.
But there comes a new problem. You have been acclimated to one sort of life and then when you try to find those who match your skin tone, again you find the feeling of otherness. You look like me but aren’t like me. There are things about you so foreign and yet I feel like there should be something innate within me I just get. It’s weird. Watching Terrell be within Black spaces, getting to know the difference between the life his mom provided to the poverty Black people lived in was deep. Especially as the line got blurred and he started hanging with PJ. Someone who came from the projects but was working toward transitioning to Wall Street. Someone who wasn’t doing so with a purpose to change, for he didn’t have that luxury or that desire of sacrificing his time and life for someone else, but for money to get himself out of poverty and the oppression of the hood.
I Am My Father’s Son
In a lot of ways, it seems the relationship with Charlotte is supposed to be a way for Barack to connect with his dad. Someone who came to a foreign place and finds himself with a white woman. Someone who may have loved him dearly but, again, doesn’t fully understand. Making it so you can understand how the feelings are complicated. You enjoy this love and affection, but something feels off. The words, “I love you” don’t slip off the tongue as they should. You in their white space or them in your Black spaces never seems right and there is no neutral ground.
A Love Interest With Depth
An often complaint is that the love interest is nothing more but a means for a young man to figure out he needs to get his life together. Arguably, Charlotte is a bit more than that. Through her, in a way, Barack, or Barry, gets to connect with his dad. Perhaps understand him a bit more than he has gotten the chance to thanks to his absence. But that isn’t the only thing. I think she is part of the realization of how one can love someone, whatever their skin tone, yet there are just some things hard to reconcile for you had two different upbringings. There is just so much to explain that might be understood, but can’t be truly felt for they will always be an outsider looking in. Something I appreciated the viewpoint of for Barry being with a white woman wasn’t ignored or made into some big thing. There was a perfect balance.
Overall: Postive (Worth Seeing)
Like Fences, this gets you thinking. It gets you thinking about the concept of race and the issues bi-racial Americans deal with. Leading you to want to applaud Netflix for while this may appear to be a cash grab, cashing in on the popularity and exit of Obama’s presidency, they allowed the story to be so much more than that and have some depth to it. Some attempt to push your understanding of this man past his politics you may or may not agree with. Almost to the point, it feels like an indirect prequel to Southside With You. Leading you to wonder, who is going to pick up the mantle to do the childhood/ teen years? If not his life until the presidency or toward the end of it.